BORIS Johnson has faced mounting criticism over a claim he would rather see "bodies pile high in their thousands" than order a third coronavirus lockdown.

The remark is understood to have been made as the Prime Minister ordered the second national lockdown in October of last year, according to the Daily Mail.

Downing Street has described the comment as "just another lie" and denied Johnson made it.

It is understood that some of the Prime Minister's Cabinet and experts advised him to make the second lockdown much more stringent so as to avoid imposing more restrictions further down the line.

After that, a source close told the Mail that Johnson said: "No more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands!"

A third lockdown was introduced in January of this year after growing fears of mounting pressure on the NHS over Covid-19.

The Mail source - described as "well-placed" - told the paper that Johnson said there is "no evidence" that lockdowns work and that "it goes against everything I’ve stood for” but was told he had no choice.

An intervention by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove where he is reported to have warned Johnson that hospitals could be overrun if more measures were not put in place and that soldiers may have to be sent to "keep people out".

Chancellor Rishi Sunak had previously warned of the economic consequences of national lockdowns, but by October had moved to the position of Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock that they were necessary.

This was understood to be the tipping point and Johnson gave in after being told he would be held responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford described the comment as "beyond redemption", tweeting: "When you consider the responsibilities of any Prime Minister is providing security of the people this is beyond redemption. Contrast the leadership of our First Minister in Scotland @NicolaSturgeon. We can use #BothVotesSNP next week and set the roadmap to independence."

Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeted: "They are not bodies they are people.

"Mine was called Kirsty, she should still be here.

"Whatever turns out to be the case, if he said it or the man he put in charge would say it to harm, either way they drip with contempt.

"Her name was Kirsty. #OurPeople"

LibDem leader Ed Davey said: "If true - this is the most callous statement a PM has made in my lifetime."

Senior Tories however have rushed to defend the Prime Minister.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (below) said the claims about Johnson were "not true".

The National: Ben Wallace

Speaking to Sky News, the Cabinet minister said: “Look, it is not true, it has been categorically denied by practically everyone.

“We are getting into the sort of comedy chapter now of these gossip stories – unnamed sources, by unnamed advisers talking about unnamed events.

“None of this is serious. The Prime Minister has been utterly focused on delivering, alongside Cabinet colleagues, the response to Covid.”

The claims about Johnson's attitude towards lockdown come just over a week before people across the UK go to the polls for local elections in England as well as the Scottish and Welsh parliament elections.

Health minister Nadine Dories dismissed the claim, tweeting: "This is an outright lie. Not one named source or substantiated fact.

"Days before Hartlepool by-election and a wide set of local/PCC/Mayoral elections.

"It’s mendacious, vexatious co ordinated gossip given in order to negatively influence the outcome"

It also comes amid an ongoing feud between the Prime Minister and his former top adviser Dominic Cummings.

READ MORE: Tory sources say war with Dominic Cummings may lead to Boris Johnson's demise

Tory peer Gavin Barwell (below), who served as Downing Street chief of staff under Theresa May, said the feud between No 10 and Cummings “has the potential to be extremely destabilising”.

He told Times Radio: “I think there will be huge frustration among Conservative MPs, councillors and candidates with the elections approaching in early May that this appears to be an entirely self-inflicted wound, that this story that we’re all talking about was prompted by either someone in No 10 – or the Prime Minister himself allegedly – accusing Dominic Cummings of being behind all the recent leaks.

“There are some significant unanswered questions still and we’ve seen further revelations over the weekend and in this morning’s papers – clearly, potentially there is more information that might get released.”

Barwell said the inquiry into the so-called “chatty rat” leak regarding last year’s November lockdown had taken “a long time”.

“My own experience working for Theresa when we had a very serious leak from the National Security Council and she asked the Cabinet Secretary to conduct a very aggressive inquiry to find who was responsible is that actually it only took a matter of days to go through everybody’s phones and email communication, so this has been going for four or five months now and I think MPs will want to know why it has taken so long and where it has got to,” he added.

READ MORE: Tory minister unable to say where No 10 flat revamp money came from

“It is difficult to say that [why the leak inquiry has taken so long] from the outside but it just surprises me, given my own experience of these things in the past, that we haven’t had an outcome.”

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "The Government is totally focused on delivering the people’s priorities as we continue our vaccination programme and recover from coronavirus, creating new jobs and building back better."